Constitutional amendment bill: An accident waiting to happen

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH

COMMENT | The morning after the controversial constitutional amendment bill was defeated in Parliament, a dear friend from Kuching sent me this message: “Are you sad? I listened to the proceedings until the votes were counted. 

“Must have been on my thoughts that I couldn’t sleep. My husband asked me, ‘Why were you crying last night?’ I said, did I? Wasn’t aware it affected me so badly! So what can we expect next?”

This best sums up how important the proposed amendment to the Federal Constitution is to ordinary Sarawakians. People are concerned because they care and love their homeland, as all proud and patriotic citizens should.

I think more people tuned in to the live streaming from Parliament on Tuesday night than during the World Cup final. I, too, was caught up in it, and was in Parliament from 10.30am till 5pm, went home for a shower and dinner, and returned at 9pm to witness the voting.

So, am I sad with the bill being shot down? Yes, but also happy.

I am sad because Sabah and Sarawak MPs were not united on such an important bill. They prioritised their politics, not the future of their fellow citizens or the nation.

But I am also happy because I do not believe in the ‘better than nothing’ stance espoused by turncoats. They were defeated, and rightly so.

What went wrong?

Let me explain. The reality is that the whole of Sabah and Sarawak had agreed that the equal partner status must be restored. Who doesn’t want their eroded rights back? I am sure this is something all the lawmakers from Sabah and Sarawak, from both sides, would gallantly fight for.

So what went wrong on Tuesday? The defeat was an accident waiting to happen and it happened. Why? Overconfidence on the part of Pakatan Harapan – they were so sure they could obtain the two-thirds to pass the amendment bill.

Even Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad thought so, as he told the media after the voting. 

De facto Law Minister Liew Vui Keong (photo) deserved more than an earful from his boss for this historic defeat, as no amendment to the Federal Constitution had ever suffered such an embarrassing and humiliating defeat.

The burden is now on Liew to seriously dissect what went wrong, as he is the minister in charge and the one who tabled the bill for first reading on April 4.

One also wonders whether Liew is competent for the job. Did he bother to call all the lawmakers from Sabah and Sarawak together and discuss the final draft of the bill, or at least obtain their feedback and final consent before presenting the bill in Parliament? 

Surely, he would’ve known that the support of the opposition MPs from Sabah and Sarawak were needed to get it through.

But apparently, he didn’t. Meeting your own cabinet colleagues from Harapan is not good enough. 

Other stakeholders, like opposition MPs, must not be kept in the dark about what’s to come. This was the case on April 4.

After the bill was first presented, following the subsequent uproar from opposition MPs, Liew issued a statement saying that the chief ministers of Sabah and Sarawak had already agreed to the amended bill. 

When told by the chief ministers themselves that they did not, Liew never bothered to undertake damage control or make a serious effort to woo their support.

In the five days between April 4 and April 9, a lot of things could have been put right – if Liew did his job. But it is quite clear from his handling of this important bill that he is not up to it.

Casting affiliation aside

At a crucial time like this, legislators must cast their political affiliations aside and come together for the greater good of the nation.

Both sides had set aside their differences on issues in the past. Why didn’t they do so on this all-so-important legislation? This has been bugging me since Tuesday night.

At times, I wonder whether ministers and the opposition MPs ever bother to have civil conversations at all. 

This communication breakdown appears to be serious, and our naughty boys and girls in Parliament must be told to behave and act like adults.

Fair play

As a layperson, I am not interested in the allegations and counter-allegations that both sides were playing ‘political games’ and out to gain credit for this and that.

What I want is justice and fair play as Sabah and my homeland, Sarawak, move in unison with Malaya as genuine equal partners in the federation founded by our forefathers.

I am also not bothered whether Harapan or GPS or even BN is the government of the day as long as the leaders are just, honest and accountable.

To Harapan, let me say this. The arrogance displayed by some of your leaders in their statements and press conferences asking opposition MPs to support the bill was glaring.

You appeal for my support, you tell me nicely, explain to me in detail why I should do so. Stay humble, be genuine and sincere. When you are arrogant and tell me “isn’t this what you wanted and if you are still unhappy, so be it” you will never win me over. 

And to GPS lawmakers, I think it is not right to keep on making demands after demands. Harapan had relented and had amended the bill which was tabled for second reading. 

Still unsatisfied, you asked for more. That is not right, political ploy or not. Shame on all of you. And remember this, GPS, working with Umno and PAS is a no-no for the majority of Sarawakians.

To the turncoats who first opposed the bill but later switched over, please make up your mind and be more decisive next time. Dilly-dallying on such an important issue does not speak well of your credibility as a legislator.

For now, there is uncertainty as to when there will be another opportunity to present a similar amendment bill.

However, for many ordinary folks, like my dear friend in Kuching who teared up at the non-passage of the bill, they must remain hopeful that the accident in Parliament on Tuesday will not be a cause of danger in the future.

  • Malaysiakini

FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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